I know that when I stick on a jacket and tie, my sense of seriousness and self worth change instantly. I’m not describing it very well, but I think you know the feeling.”

To which Michael Simpson (and a couple of others of you, in much the same vein) responded: “This made me laugh. In the programming profession, it is quite the opposite. The worse you dress, the more you make. I limit myself to T-shirts and jeans. But at Emerald Systems, their star programmer programs buck naked. (Behind a closed door.) When I was at Jostens, one highly paid consultant ran around in cutoff shorts and no shoes or socks. Regular bathing seems to be optional for programmers. Our self-worth is tied up entirely by how well we code. Dressing down seems to be a message to management that we are so good, we can do what we want. We seem to be correct. Want to destroy a good programmer, put him in a tie. Maybe it cuts off the blood flow to the brain?”


Recently I quoted a fund-raising letter written during the depression by Paul Felix Warburg. This made my friend Dave Davis curious, and he came back from the library with all manner of stuff about the man, my favorite bit of which — from THE WARBURGS by Ron Chernow — follows:

“The third Warburg son, Paul Felix–invariably known by his nickname, Piggy–was . . . the family clown. . . . Although Piggy never graduated from college, Felix [his dad] had great affection for this incorrigible, madcap boy. When he left school, Felix got him a humble job with the B&O Railroad in Baltimore and used to write him letters that began with ‘Dear Railroad Magnate.’ While working on the railroad, Piggy met another rich young man who persuaded him to invest in his new business and Felix reacted angrily. ‘I love you dearly,’ he told his son, ‘but if you’re so irresponsible with money as all that, I’m going to put you on an allowance.’ The friend was William F. Paley and the investment was the nascent CBS.”


I pointed out that at all income levels, on average, people give away about 3% of their income. But the rich are different from you and me, because on an after-tax basis (because they itemize their deductions and give appreciated securities), they give less money (on a percentage basis).

From Brian Annis: “Considering that the government FORCES someone with a higher income to give more of it to the needy, is it really fair to knock the rich for not giving more voluntarily? After all, a dollar received via the IRS is worth just as much to the recipient as one that has passed through the United Way. In fact, the contribution received from a rich person may have been given with a greater spirit of charity than a “voluntary” one coerced from someone else by an employer, church, etc. The only difference is really in the degree of choice about who the recipient is.”

That is definitely one way to look at it. Indeed, on that basis you could argue that only the poor should give much, since they are getting a relatively free ride off rich people’s taxes. The rich have more than done their duty just by paying tax.

But all this assumes that giving money, if one could afford to, is naturally something one would want not to do. Yet when you look at all that needs doing in the world, and how tantalizingly close we are as a species to making this thing work (or else having it all blow up in our faces), it turns out that for many people who see what’s going on, there’s nothing they’d rather do than be able to help. (Was Scrooge really happier before he started giving?)

The family that gets by on $30,000 a year yet gives $900 (3%) is perhaps giving 50% of its discretionary income (after basics like taxes, food and shelter). The family that gets by on $500,000 a year yet gives $15,000 (3%) is giving perhaps 4% of its discretionary income. If such a family went nuts and gave $90,000 to the causes it believed in — roughly 10% after tax — it would still not feel much of a pinch.

Let me be clear: I’m not saying anybody need give a penny if he/she doesn’t want to. I just think those who can afford to but don’t are missing out on one of money’s greatest luxuries.



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